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  • Gangā

1. Gangā (Modern Ganges). One of the five great rivers (Mahānadī) that water Jambudīpa, the others being Yamunā, Aciravatī, Sarabhū, and Mahī (E.g., Vin.ii.237; S. ii.135; v.401; A.iv.101; v.22; Mil.114 mentions ten).

The Commentaries (E.g., SnA.ii.438f; AA.ii.761ff; MA.ii.586; UdA.301) give a long description of their origin. From the Anotatta lake flow four rivers: that from the south circles the lake three times under the name of Avattagangā, then as Kanhagangā flows straight for sixty leagues along the surface of a rock, comes into violent contact with a vertical rock, and is thrown upwards as a column of water three gāvutas in circumference; this column, known as Akāsagangā, flows through the air for sixty leagues, falls on to the rock Tiyaggala, excavating it to a depth of fifty leagues, thus forming a lake which is called Tiyaggalapokkharanī; then the river, under the name of Bahalagangā, flows through a chasm in the rock for sixty leagues, then, under the name of Ummaggagangā, through a tunnel for a further sixty leagues, and finally coming upon the oblique rock Vijjha, divides into five streams, forming the five rivers above mentioned.

Among places mentioned as being on the banks of the Gangā are Benāres, Campā, Ayojjha, Kimbhilā, Ukkāvelā, Payāga, Pātaliputta, and Sankassa. The Gangā formed one of the most important means of communication and trade for the districts through which it flowed - e.g., from Rājagaha to Vesāli. The district to the north of the river and bordering on the kingdom of Anga was called Anguttarāpa (SnA..ii.439). The river was five hundred leagues in length (SA.ii.119).

The name of the Gangā appears again and again in similes and metaphors in the Pāli books:

  • its sands are immeasurable (S.iv.376);

  • its waters cannot be made bracken by adding to them a grain of salt (A.i.250);

  • it is full of foam, and yet its foam is empty (S.iii.140);

  • it were folly to wish to hold up the course of its waters with one's fist (S.iv.298);

  • as the river finds repose only in the ocean, so do the followers of the Buddha find repose only in nibbāna (M.i.493);

  • some things are as inevitable as that the Gangā should flow into the sea (S.iv.179);

  • there is no such thing as the Gangā apart from its sand, its water, and its banks;

  • to be cast on the other side of the Gangā (pāragangāya) is great misfortune (see, e.g., S. i.207, SnA.i.228).

  • The Gangā flows from west to east (pācīnaninnā, S. iv.191);

  • during the rains it is so full of water that even a crow could drink water from its bank (Vin.i.230);

  • sometimes the banks would be flooded and the buildings on them destroyed (SA.i.164), and people would find difficulty in crossing;

  • at others it was shallow and could be crossed by means of a reed bridge (SnA.i.18);

  • cattle could easily be driven from one bank to another (M.i.225).

  • At various spots were ferries where boatmen plied for hire (e.g., J. iii.230).

  • On its banks, on the higher reaches, were numerous snakes and parrots (J.ii.145, iii.491),

  • and all along the banks were hermitages (e.g., J. iii.476, v.191, etc.).

  • Men always bathed in the river, and on festival days even women of very good family came for water-sports, sometimes spending the whole day in the river; kings also came with their retinues (e.g., J. i.295; MA.ii.604; DhA.iii.199).

Reference is also made to a Gangāmahīkīlā, (Smp. on Vin.i.191, and again, ii.276). Buddhaghosa says that Mahī here refers to the earth, but Rhys Davids (VT.ii.25, n.3) thinks it refers to the river of that name.

The junction of the Gangā and the Yamunā is frequently referred to, and is used as a simile for perfect union (e.g., J.vi.412, 415). A tributary of the Gangā is mentioned which flows from Himavā, its name being Migasammatā (J.vi.72). The ford at Pātaliputta, where the Buddha crossed on his way from Rājagaha to Vesāli, was called Gotamatittha (Vin.i.230); its distance from Rājagaha was five leagues, and from Vesāli three (KhpA.162-3). When the Buddha, after curing the plague at Vesāli, returned to Rājagaha, great festivities marked the event, and the celebration was known as the Gangārohana. The devas and the nāgas vied with each other to do honour to the Teacher, and there was a great assembly of all classes of beings, comparable to those on the occasions of the Twin Miracle and the Descent from Tusita (DhA.iii.444). Among the nāgas who dwelt in the Gangā is mentioned Eraka (DhA.iii.231).

The water of the Gangā was considered holy and was used for the consecration of kings, not only of India but also of Ceylon (Mhv.Xi.30; MT.305).

The people on the northern bank were rough and coarse, while those on the south were pious and generous, believers in the Buddha (DA.i.160).

The upper reaches of the river were called Uddhagangā (J.ii.283, vi.427) or Uparigangā (J.iv.230), and the lower reaches Adhogangā (J.ii.283, 329, v.3).

See also Kosikī, Bhagīrathī, Mahāgangā, and Pāragangā.

2. Gangā. See Mahāvālukagangā.

3. Gangā. A lake, the residence of the Nāga king Dona. BuA.153.

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